Rafer Roberts Talks A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong

Rafer Roberts joined us to talk about his take on Valiant's flagship comedy duo, A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong.

When Valiant Comics restarted its universe in 2012, Archer & Armstrong set the tone for what would become a great stable of action-comedy superhero books. Now, the series is set to be relaunched, this time in the hands of artist David Lafuente (Ultimate Spider-Man) and writer Rafer Roberts.

Roberts has an extensive background in indie and webcomics, and has drawn a number of short stories set in the Valiant universe. He talked to us about his take on the characters; what it’s like working in a shared superhero universe; and why Mary-Maria is his favorite character.

JD: This is not your first time working with Valiant, or even your first time working on Archer and Armstrong. What’s different? Besides the obvious “I’M IN CONTROL” and the associated mwa-ha-ha-ing that comes from writing an ongoing.

Rafer Roberts: All of my previous work for Valiant was on the art side of things, mostly drawing backup stories with writer Justin Jordan, so being the guy who decides the words that these characters are saying (rather than the guy who gives them funny facial expressions while they are talking) is definitely a big change. There’s also the obvious difference that these stories now are much longer, much more grand in scope, and much less questionable whether they are “in continuity” or not.

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There is also the matter of preparation. With A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong being an ongoing series, I need to make sure to plant little seeds in these early issues in order to grow future story arcs. When I was drawing the backups, all I concerned myself with was whether or not my drawings properly sold Justin’s jokes. Now I have to think about how Armstrong’s drunken antics in issue one might create or influence events that will occur in issue 15, or how a seemingly typical conversation between Archer and Mary-Maria might hint at later confrontations.

Luckily I enjoy doing that sort of thing.

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JD: What has working with David Lafuente been like? Do you find the story you wanted to tell changing because of strong points you’re finding in his work as it comes back?

RR: I’ve said it many times, but David is making me look like a better writer. His style, I think, is a perfect compliment to my writing on A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong. His art could be described as cartoony, but that deceptively cartoony nature of his art sucks you in and helps deliver unexpected emotional punches when you least expect it. Beyond that, the entire creative team with Ryan Winn on inks, Brian Reber on colors, and Dave Lanphear on lettering, has created a book that is very different from most everything else on the shelves right now. To me, it’s got this cel animation feel, but it’s also very European in a way. I’m not sure that I can properly describe it other than to say that A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong is one gorgeous looking comic and everyone involved is busting their asses and putting out some of their best work,

Also, and I make no secret about this, once I learned that David was going to be the artist I immediately starting finding more things for Mary-Maria and the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness to do. There is going to be a fairly large subplot involving her and a group of murder nun cadets.

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JD: New Valiant has a solid track record with humor comics, but all of them have had very different tones: Archer & Armstrong was a buddy cop movie with light political satire, Quantum & Woody a dysfunctional family, and Ivar, Timewalker was a thinly veiled romantic comedy. If you had to broadly classify your story, what would it be?

RR: A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong is a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road trip movie, written by Dan Harmon while tripping on mushrooms, and directed by a young Tim Burton.

There’s really something special about being allowed to write about the strange friendship that exists between a ten-thousand-year-old immortal drunken warrior-poet and an ex-fundamentalist teenage ninja assassin and, for sure, A&A retains a lot of the buddy cop dynamic from the earlier series. One of the most enjoyable parts of writing this series is the back-and-forth bickering between Archer and Armstrong, but what I keep on the forefront of my mind is that, deep down, these guys are friends and every once in a while they actually do enjoy each other’s company. Their relationship is the whole point of the series. 

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JD: Nightmare the Rat and Plastic Farm both have deeply indie vibes to them – not just in the art (which has a kind of Crumb/Glenn Head level of scratchy detail and cartoonishness), but in their narrative perspective and demented, skewed senses of humor. What are you drawing on from your time making those comics to make A&A? Do you have to modulate your natural instincts at all to channel them through a shared universe superhero comic?

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RR: It’s weird because I don’t really think about this consciously, so forgive me as I try to come up with a rational answer. I mean, all of my writing is instinctual and draws from the same source so it’s not like I sit down and say to myself “Time to get in Plastic Farm mind” or “Time for A&A brain”. I know how strange that sounds, considering how different these two books are, but it’s true. Everything comes from character and motivation, and no matter the project, I think I approach that the same.

It’s like driving a car. Once I figure out who the characters are and what they want and how they relate to others, that’s like getting in the car. Once we’re in motion, the rest comes out of daydreaming and listening to good music and maybe missing an exit or two and sometimes ending up in unexpected territory. It’s always the same driver, the same daydreaming brain, but sometimes the car is different.

JD: While we’re talking shared universes, Valiant feels like a superhero universe where creators can have as much or as little engagement with the broader universe as they want. How close to (or far away from) the rest of the ongoing Valiant story will A&A be?

RR: One of the things I’m most excited about working on A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong is the chance to work within a shared universe. I know a lot of creators balk at the idea of working around crossovers and events and want to just tell their story with as little interruption as possible, but I’ve got my self-published comics for that. The idea of writing a story with another writer, which isn’t something I’ve done much of at all, excites the hell out of me. Team-ups and crossovers aren’t only about bringing the two (or 20) characters together, but also the bringing together of creative minds to make something cool. 

While there aren’t any big crossovers planned in the near future, people can expect to see the occasional guest star show up. That’s probably all I’m allowed to say at this point about that.

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JD: Can you talk a little bit about where both of the characters are now as opposed to when we last left them in their own book? Archer is getting out there a little more with maybe some romance with Faith and getting roped into counterintelligence operations in Dead Drop, and Armstrong has watched both brothers die. Has that impacted their relationship at all?

RR: It’s impacted their relationship in that it’s affected them first as individuals. They are still generally the same people as when we saw them at the end of Archer & Armstrong, good friends who annoy each other.

In Armstrong’s case with his brothers, that’s complicated. He’s seen everyone he’s ever known die. Gilad he’s probably seen die a few hundred times and return, what with him being the Eternal Warrior and all, so there’s a feeling that he’ll see him again. There’s sadness, but it kind of blends with the current level of sadness that sits just below the surface of Armstrong’s drunken happy-go-lucky persona.

Archer is, as you say, getting more out there. A lot of that comes from hanging around Armstrong so much and being introduced to the world and to different perspectives on how the world works. Archer retains his personal morality—I’m not sure anything could strip him of that—but he has become more accepting of others. He has loosened up…slightly.

I’ve been describing Archer and Armstrong’s relationship at the beginning of A&A as Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 2, in that they’ve already been through a lot of crap together and have come out the other side as much closer friends. They still annoy the living crap out of each other and bicker quite often, but they each know that they have each others’ back when it counts.

JD: Armstrong is 10,000 years old, and he carries a satchel full of monsters around with him, which he’ll be diving into for the first arc. Does his age and the fact that he touches pretty much all of recorded human history give you a chance to pull in elements from those time periods and those mythologies to your story?

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RR: Somewhat, yes, but a lot of what we encounter during this first arc is a lot of Armstrong’s garbage. He’s pretty much been stuffing EVERYTHING down the ol’ memory hole, and now it’s coming back to (literally) bite him in the ass. He has been keeping valuable things in the bag, from sacred objects to powerful magical items to rare vintages of booze, but he’s been keeping a lot of trash as well.

If I was a writer who dealt in metaphor, you could see Armstrong’s satchel as the physical manifestation of the emotional baggage that he’s been carrying around with him for millennia.

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JD: How crazy does Bacchus [a mad god trapped in Armstrong’s satchel for centuries and the villain of the main arc] drive Archer, seeing as how it seems like Bacchus might be a dark reflection of his best friend?

RR: That’s an interesting point. Initially, when they first encounter Bacchus, Archer actually concedes that Armstrong (due to his behavior a few centuries earlier) might deserve what Bacchus has in store for him. Over the course of the adventure, without giving too much away and as an indirect result of Bacchus’s actions, I think Archer gains a better appreciation of Armstrong’s inner turmoil.

In fairness, Bacchus drives everyone crazy due to his dark machinations and tendency for violent mood swings. He’s one of my favorites to write. He looks like the devil but talks like Paul Lynde.

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JD: You’ve mentioned that Mary Maria is your favorite character. Why?

RR: It’s her multi-faceted nature. On the surface level, Mary-Maria is a total bad ass. She’s the leader of the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, her band of murderous nuns, and is a fierce and skilled assassin in her own right. But she also has a sense of love and loyalty to Archer, her foster brother, which creates conflict with her duties as leader of the Sisters. She’s been treated like an object throughout her entire life (her forced adoption and training by the Archers or the unwanted romantic attention from her adopted brother as examples) but she currently finds herself in a position where she feels like she has agency over her own life. What she does with this freedom, the inner turmoil that she faces because of it, and what actions she will take if that freedom is ever threatened, are all a lot of fun to explore as a writer and, I hope, even more fun for the reader.

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JD: How far out have you planned for A&A?

RR: Probably too far! I have a tendency to daydream and think of long, spawning epic story lines for things. I’ve got a good plan for the first 25 issues, though some is still in the larval stage, and big ideas for beyond that if things work out.

Right now we’re focused on putting the best Next Issue we can. You can’t put the roof on till the walls are built. I hope that readers enjoy the stories we are telling so that we get to keep telling them.

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Valiant’s A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1, written by Roberts and drawn by David Lafuente will be out in comic shops on March 16, 2016. Roberts will be on tour promoting the book, starting at X-Ray Comics in Hagerstown, MD to celebrate the release of the book. For more information on the tour, you can check Valiant’s web site here.